Although Singapore's constitution guarantees rights to free expression, peaceful assembly, and association, these rights are severely restricted in practice. Government-dominated control of media outlets is exacerbated by an interlocking system of laws and regulations designed to curb expression of opposition views in various media, and the courts' willingness to fine and imprison alleged violators for sedition, defamation, and contempt of court when official institutions or leaders are the objects of criticism. Over the years, Singapore's leaders have filed defamation cases, seeking and winning apologies and punitive damages from the Singapore Democratic Party, assorted columnists and editors, the Far East Economic Review, Bloomberg News, the Financial Times, The Economist, and Time Magazine. Most recently, in 2010, the New York Times Company was held liable for a piece in the International Herald Tribune on dynastic politics in East Asia. Under Singapore's law, plaintiffs do not carry the burden of proof and there is no latitude for defendants who write on matters of public interest or concerning public officials. Singapore's Court of Appeal has consistently rejected a responsible journalism defense.
Singapore additionally maintains a "contempt of court" offense that can be imposed merely for criticism of the judiciary. The Wall Street Journal and one its senior editors were found guilty of contempt for pieces published in its Asia edition in 2008.
In a case heard in court in October 2010, Singapore's attorney-general charged Alan Shadrake, the British author of Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, with contempt for "scandalizing the judiciary" for alleging that rather than strictly observing the death penalty law (which mandates execution for murder, treason, and some 20 drug trafficking-related offenses) the courts' decisions may have been affected by political and economic pressures, biases against the "weak," "poor," or "less-educated," and PAP interference. The attorney cited 11 specific statements in the book, including the title, to argue that Shadrake's allegations and insinuations "muzzle confidence in the courts' impartiality, integrity and independence.".
Shadrake was found guilty on November 3 and later sentenced to 6 weeks in prison and a SGD20,000 (US$16,040) fine. At Shadrake's appeal on April 11, 2011, the prosecutor contended that the defendant had "transgressed" the limits of free speech and fair criticism and had "maligned the entire judiciary," posing a danger to the public's confidence in the judiciary. The Court of Appeal has yet to issue a ruling.
Recommendation: Cease bringing contempt of court charges that violate the right to freedom of expression.